Starved for Space

By on November 26, 2007 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

I have been thinking a lot about space—not the virtually limitless area beyond our atmosphere where distance is measured in light years, but the very definite and measurable space in which we spend our lives on planet Earth.

I spend a great deal of time on planes. I keep expenses down by getting the cheapest fares and flying coach, often forgetting to check in online and having to suffer with a middle seat. I am a pretty tall guy, and I am shoe-horned in to these seats. I am learning to type on my laptop with my elbows pressed against my ribcage and the reclined seat in front of me inches away from my head. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor and entirely bearable hardship, but it is a reminder to me about the importance of space and comfort.

Egg-laying hens in battery cage
© Compassion Over Killing
Egg-laying hens languish in restrictive,
overcrowded battery cages.

I have been thinking about it more because of the California ballot initiative The HSUS has launched, in concert with other animal protection groups such as our friends at Farm Sanctuary. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act is, more than anything, about space—for veal calves, pregnant sows and egg-laying hens, who these days are kept in severe confinement in cages or crates barely larger than their bodies. The measure—now being circulated for voters’ signatures to qualify it for the November 2008 ballot—would stipulate that these animals be able to extend their limbs, lie down, and turn around. It’s a simple and modest reform, but one with many implications for these creatures.

The veal calves and gestating sows are in crates just larger than their bodies, and multiple hens are crammed into a battery cage that gives each bird about 67 square inches, according to the egg industry standard (that’s about two-thirds the size of an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper per bird). In these cages and crates, the animals are effectively immobilized for nearly every moment of their lives.

Yet, the industry and the animal scientists who shill for the industry try to tell us that it’s better for animals to be crammed into cages and crates. They face fewer risks and less aggression if they are trapped in a cage, the assertion goes.

I guess we’d face little risk of human aggression and some other diminished threats if we lived in a cage our entire lives. But it wouldn’t be much of a life. And that’s the problem with these industry scientists. If you just take narrow measures—such as longevity, output, or production—and fail to see the whole, you can convince yourself that this extreme confinement of animals is acceptable. But it just doesn’t pass the common sense test. Animals built to move should be allowed to move—in fact, that’s the way much of animal agriculture was conducted for centuries before agribusiness interests developed factory farms that now dominate most animal production sectors.

The fact is, the industry did not opt for intensive confinement systems for the benefit of the animals. It moved in this direction because it returned more profits. By not allowing animals to move, you don’t have to feed them as much. By packing more of them into smaller and smaller areas, you can raise more animals in a set amount of space. If your worldview is to think of animals like nothing more than commodities—simply as meat-, milk- and egg-producing machines—then the system seems entirely rational.

Calves in veal crates
© Farm Sanctuary
Calves raised for veal are tethered in small crates, unable
to turn around.

But if you as a consumer fly in coach and experience a little discomfort in doing so, you know that space matters. You’d go mad if you lived your entire life in an airline seat. We as consumers go to great lengths to get a window or aisle seat. We are thrilled to be seated in Economy Plus on United or American, which gives us a whopping five additional inches of space. Virgin America, a new airline, now allows you to spend an extra $15 to get an economy plus seat. These little benefits do matter to us.

And they surely matter to the millions of animals on factory farms today, particularly the veal calves, the breeding pigs and the laying hens who endure the worst privations in modern agribusiness.

If you live in California, please volunteer to collect signatures to get this measure on the ballot. If you don’t but know people of conscience who live there, forward them this blog and encourage them to get involved. If you’ll do so, you’ll help lessen the terrible suffering that these animals endure. Space matters.

Farm Animals

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